Olympus Mju Tough-6010 digital camera review

Olympus is no stranger to waterproofing cameras, they've been doing it for years. The Mju Tough-6010 comes in as an incremental step-up over the Tough-6000 bringing it up to 12 megapixels.

In appearance it looks the same as the Tough-6000, with bold "tough" design lines. The lens is covered by an automatic sliding metal cover, that looks neat and purports to protect the lens, but is fatally flawed: a few hours on the beach and it stopped working on our review model.

The Tough-6010 isn't competing in the slim stakes, as its Tough status brings 3m waterproofing, 1.5m drop shockproofing and joy down to -10 degrees Celsius. As a result the camera measures 95.3 x 63.4 x 22.4mm and is around 180g with battery and memory card.

In terms of controls things are rather busy. Alongside the 2.7-inch 230k-dot LCD screen is the zoom rocker, a mode dial, and a four-way controller, with central ok button, surrounded by four further buttons. It does mean that the back is a little cluttered. The power and shutter buttons are on the top.

The four-way controller gives you access to the likes of exposure compensation, flash, self timer and macro modes, whilst the central button enters the on-screen function menus, allowing you to change most of the shooting settings. However, a separate menu button is also presented, where you'll find a few odds and ends to adjust. The result isn't the most intuitive system, as you'll likely ignore the Menu proper altogether.

The Mode dial gives you the regular options of scenes, beauty, video, playback, iAuto and "manual" mode. Most of these we’ve seen before, with beauty aiming to smooth-out skin tones, ideal of vanity photos online, but little else.

The "Manual" mode gives you control over things like white balance, metering and ISO, but it’s a shame you have to dive out of that function menu to set something like the flash. Still, "Manual" works pretty well as a full auto mode, once you have made your settings, but you don't really get any advanced manual controls here.

iAuto offers the typical scene recognition, with quick acknowledgements of what the camera is doing, once it has scanned the scene. It works pretty well for the most part, but like other systems that make a similar offering, it falls over when you present it with a low light environment. The result is either a blurry or noisy image and for this type of shot, you are better off taking control yourself.

For the adventurer in you, you also get Tap Control (which you can disable when you don't need). Tap Control will allow you to change basic settings, as well as playback images and videos. It is intended for gloved users, and may be of use to those who struggle when out skiing with a camera.

In terms of underwater operation, the Tough-6010 has three underwater modes included in the scenes. We found the option for underwater snapshot gave great results for candid shots. Operation underwater is simple enough too, but the camera doesn't float, so we'd advise you attach a strap before you dive in.

As we said, the lens is protected by a metal cover that retracts into the body of the camera when you power it on. This means there is a gap into which dirt and sand can get. Sand quickly stopped our lens cover working, resulting in lots of complaints from the camera. Once manually pushed out of the way that camera continued to function as normal, but continued to leak sand for some time.

The lens is a 28-102mm (35mm equiv.) with a 3.6x zoom, and a max aperture of F3.5. Being recessed into the body of the camera, lens flare didn't seem to be an issue, bit it can be a little tricky to clear, should it get covered in greasy fingers, snow or mud. With water, however, it was quick to shed surface water, so taking photos in and around the pool gave generally good results.

The battery and memory card live under a sealed hatch on the bottom. This being Olympus, the Tough-6010 is designed to take an xD-Picture Card, but Olympus are kind enough to supply an adapter to accommodate a microSD card – we used a 16GB microSDHC card with no problems for this review.

Charging the battery takes place under through a separate port on the side, with a bundled charger supplied in the box that plugs straight into the camera. It does mean there is another flap that needs sealing, but it all seems solid enough. We found the battery gave us around 220 shots used in average mixed conditions.

Video capture comes in at a maximum 640 x 480px resolution. The results are average across the range of settings and we found a great deal of banding and noise coming in when presented with changing conditions, so it is a little behind the times.

Image quality is generally good however. Olympus' reputation for producing outstanding blues is not lost here, with rich colour representations across most shooting conditions. High contrast scenes do come across with a degree of fringing, although only those looking to create larger prints will struggle here. For general use, however, the quality is good.

Focusing can be something of an issue and we weren't always convinced that the Tough-6010 had really got to grips with what we wanted in focus. It also suffers from the same "night mode" problems you'll find in other compacts, i.e., the results are either noisy or blurry, depending on what the camera tried to do. For night shots it is worth avoiding iAuto and taking control yourself. It is worth keeping an eye on the mode dial too, as popping out of the water in underwater modes and taking a shot will often confuse the metering and give you an over-exposed image, for example.

Shutter lag is minimal and buffering isn't too long either. The continuous shooting mode skips previews but doesn't really give you much of a speed increase over regular shooting, certainly not fast enough to capture a fast moving subject, like a downhill skier. However, there is a high-speed continuous mode that drops the resolution to 3-megapixels, but does then rattle off shots at 5fps.

Verdict

Overall the Olympus Mju Tough-6010 is a solid performer. Build quality is generally very good, save for the lens cover, which is a potential weakness. We were encouraged, however, that even once that part was "broken" the camera soldiered on without a problem.

The controls are a little convoluted and could do with some tidying up, but it is simple enough to use, with scene descriptions and no shortage of information available. Tap Control perhaps makes up for the smaller buttons, a nod to tough users, but may be a little gimmicky for some.

It is not the best in terms of image quality either, especially given the rather high price, with the video leaving you wanting as well. But the results are impressive enough to make the Olympus Mju Tough-6010 worthy of consideration as a snapper for your action holiday.